Local, smaller scale solar PV project developers are showing very strong interest in building so-called “solar gardens” in Colorado. So many applied for Xcel Energy’s Solar Rewards Community solar gardens program this past week—the first time it’s been opened to project developers—that the utility had to close the application window just 30 minutes after it opened.
During that time, Xcel received applications for three times the solar PV capacity allowed under current state law, according to a report from Boulder’s Daily Camera. Xcel’s aiming to install some 4.5-MW of solar power capacity from solar PV systems with total rated capacity less than or equal to 500-kW.
“The success of this initial offering and the fact that it subscribed so quickly clearly shows that this is a beneficial and desirable program for our Colorado customers,” commented Xcel subsidiary Public Service Co. of Colorado president and CEO, David Eves. “Solar*Rewards Community makes solar energy available to a new, broad group of customers and we are pleased with the interest shown today.”
Utility-sponsored community solar power
People living in co-ops, condos, apartments and townhouses—be they owners or renters—may have the desire to install and enjoy the benefits of clean, local and renewable power generation, but they typically lack the space and/or property rights necessary to have solar PV systems installed. That’s where the solar gardens concept and PSC Colorado’s Solar Rewards Community program comes in.
“The Solar*Rewards Community standard offer was designed for Colorado customers who could not, for various reasons, take advantage of other solar programs, because they were renting, lived in multi-family dwellings or did not have homes or businesses suitable for solar installations,” Xcel explains in a press release. “Customers are now able to purchase renewable energy through solar project developers from a community-based photovoltaic system.”
To date, Xcel’s installed more than 10,000 solar PV systems with more than 110-MW of power capacity in Colorado and paid out $245 million in incentives to Solar Rewards Community program participants. In this new element of the program, so-called “subscriber organizations” will install community solar gardens and receive production incentives from Xcel Energy, according to the utility. In turn, they’ll market, sell or lease shares in the solar gardens to subscribing customers in their communities on their own terms.
PSC Colorado on Aug. 16 also opened a second solar power community development program—the Solar Rewards Community Request for Proposal—for solar garden projects ranging in capacity from 500-kW to 2-MW. Developer proposals for this program will be accepted through Sept. 14.
By allowing community solar power project developers to participate in its Solar Rewards Community, Xcel is essentially allowing Colorado’s solar PV project developers and its customers to participate in local, community solar PV installations built and operated by one of the country’s largest electric utilities.
Through Solar Rewards Community, Xcel is effectively outsourcing its own solar PV leasing and community project development program, a business model that’s gained a lot of traction, as demonstrated by the success of independent community solar PV leasing companies, such as One Block Off the Grid, SunRun and others has demonstrated. Solar Rewards’ participants share in the clean renewable power generated and incentive payments from government programs while Xcel builds, maintains and retains ownership of the solar PV panel arrays.
It seems like a win-win situation. Being a large, successful electric utility, Xcel can leverage the skills, knowledge and experience it’s acquired in renewable energy project development and apply its resources in developing local solar gardens. Being accepted into the Solar Rewards program, Xcel electricity consumers effectively become clean, renewable electricity producers as well, contributing to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions reductions and weaning their communities, state and nation off fossil fuels.
With Solar Rewards Community, Xcel’s also seeking to defuse and avoid some of the controversy associated with net metering programs. “Participants in our Solar*Rewards Community program will pay their fair share of costs associated with the transmission and distribution of their energy, instead of avoiding these costs through net metering,” Eves said. “As the solar industry grows, we believe it is increasingly important for all the utility costs and incentives for solar to be as transparent as possible.”
State legislation currently limits the amount of solar power Xcel can bring online through its Solar Rewards Community program. PSC Colorado has proposed to add 9-MW of solar PV capacity in 2012 and another in 2013, the maximum allowed under current state law, according to the company.
*Photo credit: Jeffco Public Schools